My mother fishes out her seashell
compact. The rabbit tail brush dabbed
with pressed powder sweeps across my
face, feathering into alabaster, a masking.
Throughout my grade school performances—
whether stuffed inside a tomato costume or
sandwiched between cardboards to resemble
a book—my mother has applied foundation,
blush, talcum, highlighting mascara, to conceal
and reveal: boy and actor, flesh and porcelain.
Backstage, her slender finger glides her lipstick
red on my lips, pearly puckered. She’s leaning so
close we’re exchanging breaths. Transference
from a woman who never leaves the house
without her face impeccably drawn, hair
fashionably in a bun. Who, during the heat
of equatorial afternoons, locks her children
in her bedroom for siesta to preserve our light
skin. I am learning beauty, I am learning to be
feminine, and shoulder the cruelties accorded
a boy with flair. I put forth face of even tone,
void of harshness. What a beautiful mother
does to her son. Escorting him to the stage.
With the taste of petrolatum in my mouth,
hair slicked back with pomade, crowned
with a poinsettia headdress, I’m in the garden
of a Christmas pageant, perfumed, armored
with memorized rhyming lines and conspicuous
anonymity among bare-faced classmates. Before
a cat-eyed audience I flower, glowing in make-
shift health, rouge like smolder of the cheeks.